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Mondo Bizarro 

Celebrating one of the original American freaks

Wednesday, Sep 22 2004
History is littered with people famous for their freaky looks, among them the Elephant Man, plastic surgery disaster Jocelyne Wildenstein, and '80s cult star Klaus Nomi. During his lifetime Nomi released two albums, appeared in underground films, and did a stint on Saturday Night Live backing up David Bowie in 1979. But the main reason he remains a minor icon is his look, which combined elements of drag, kabuki costuming, and futuristic high fashion.

OK, so maybe that doesn't sound like a recipe for notoriety -- today's club kids come up with far more freakish get-ups. But nobody had ever seen anything like Nomi when he dazzled Manhattan's avant-garde at a 1979 "New Wave Vaudeville" series with his image, his unearthly and operatic voice, and his Weimar Berlin-influenced cabaret act. More club bookings followed, and with the help of an impressed Bowie he put out records of synth-laden space rock and gained a measure of acclaim. Then, in 1983, he became one of the first gay celebrities to die of AIDS.

This week New Langton Arts pays tribute to him with "OMNI: A Celebration of Klaus Nomi's 60th Birthday," five days of theater, film, stage performances, and Nomi memorabilia. "OMNI" launches with an installation of concert fliers, photos, and other artifacts, which opens the same day as "Mondo New York," a "Trannyshack" celebration laced with Nomi impersonations. But the highlight of the minifestival is the San Francisco Poets Theater presentation of Total Eclipse, a new play set within New York City's late-'70s club scene and loaded with era-specific in-jokes and references to now-faded pop notables. A screening of The Long Island Four (the movie that alerted Bowie to Nomi's existence) finishes out the week, bringing the late spaceman into a future he could only have imagined.

About The Author

Joyce Slaton


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